Tablets and smartphones have become indispensable parts of most of our lives today. Understandably, they’ve also worked their way into our workplaces. There are some questions surrounding this fact – questions largely related to security.
The security concerns are justified in large part by the fact that many of these monitored systems are controlling some essential processes – distributing electricity and water, mining and drilling for resources, cultivating and processing food, among many others. These are not processes that deal well with disruption or – even worse – catastrophic failure.
While some of the security concerns are certainly valid, the benefits of mobile devices are impossible to overlook, and the truth is that many of the security concerns are not inherent in the devices themselves, but in the way that the control system and network infrastructure are configured.
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time working in automation and process control could easily think of some scenarios in which having mobile access to live process data could have saved some time or prevented a stoppage or failure of some sort. Consider some of the pains that mobile devices can help eliminate:
- A field operator must call the control room to ask for the reading on a certain piece of equipment (i.e. valve, switch) he/she is looking at or manipulating.
- A field operator must call the control room to confirm whether a certain piece of equipment has truly been shut down for maintenance work because it sounds like it is still running.
- A field technician unknowingly works on a live line because the control room has shut down the wrong line.
- A field operator must call the control room to describe equipment schematics because he/she has no access to an HMI or drawings on the floor at that moment.
- A field operator must call the control room to pull out the manual for a piece of equipment because the panel on the one he/she is looking at is different from the others he/she is used to.
- A field operator must describe over the radio what he/she is seeing – lights on a panel, leaks, etc.
- An operator must take a check-list out to the field, return to control room and enter the results into a form or spreadsheet, or into the control HMI.
- Constant calling back and forth between field and control room when testing or calibrating a measurement or control element.
When properly configured and combined with role-based user access control, several new possibilities emerge. The time saved in the field can now be used to perform other tasks or implement programs for optimization. A safer, more productive workforce is a very real benefit, and that’s not something that business owners or managers will take lightly.
A mobile device can be used to remotely monitor processes and equipment, view drawings or manuals, review an online checklist, enter information into a form, as well as adding value as a tool for remote collaboration.